Newsletter for Sunday 10 March 2024

8 Mar

The Sign of the Cross

Pope Benedict XVI once wrote, “The most basic Christian gesture in prayer is and always will be the sign of the cross.” The cross is the instrument of our salvation. And Our Lord says to Nicodemus in today’s Gospel, “The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him” (John 3: 14-15). It is the cross Our Lord is referring to here. Everyone who looks upon the crucified One with faith and love will be saved.

The sign of the cross is a very powerful sacramental, and also a prayer which was used from the earliest days of the Church. It was most commonly made with the thumb of the right hand on the forehead. They also traced the cross on food, oil and water. There is also the triple Cross which we make at the beginning of the Gospel at Mass with the thumb on the forehead, the lips and the breast. But the sign of the cross we most commonly make is putting an open right hand to the forehead, the breast, the left and then the right shoulder. The five fingers symbolise the five wounds in Our Lord’s hands, feet and side.

The early Christians found great power in the sign of the cross. Martyrs signed themselves with it as they went to their death. St John Chrysostom said, “Never cross the threshold of your houses without saying, ‘I renounce Satan and devote myself to JESUS Christ’ accompanying these words with the sign of the cross.” And St Ambrose said, “We should make the sign of the cross at each action of the day.”

The Emperor Constantine, despite the fact of being a pagan, and seeking to overthrow his enemies, called upon the true God for a sign of victory. God answered his prayer and gave him a sign of a flaming cross in the sky along with words written underneath: “In hoc signo vinces”. “In this sign you will conquer.” Immediately, he had all his soldiers make a cross and made it the banner of his huge army. Then the following night he had a similar vision in a dream – again, a flaming cross. The next morning he woke up and asked all the soldiers to paint red crosses on their shields. Then he went off to battle, which turned out to be the most important battle in the history of the world, and he won. It was the Battle of Milvian Bridge in October 312 AD. And when Constantine entered Rome as victor, he made Christianity legal, he ended the official persecution, and eventually he would make Catholicism the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The sign of the cross is also a shield against temptations and dangers to the soul. The powers of darkness flee at the sign of the cross which is why a cross is always used in exorcisms. St Gregory of Tours said, “Whatever may be the temptations that oppress us, me must repulse them. For this end, we should make, not carelessly, but carefully, the sign of the cross, either on our forehead or on our breast.” Our Lady of Lourdes taught St Bernadette how to make the sign of the cross well. At the first apparition on 11th February 1858, Bernadette took out her Rosary, but she wrote, “My arm fell back until I was taught how to make it well.” Some years later she told another nun, when making the sign of the cross, to think of what you are doing, because it is so important to make the sign of the cross fervently.

So in these dark times in which we live where evil is spreading like wild fire, let us make the sign of the cross often, and as the saints have taught us, let us make it fervently and well.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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